Mark McWilliams was a little anxious when we caught up to him in Austin recently. “It’s the first time ever I’ve missed harvest,” he confessed with a pained expression. “With all the travel restrictions, it’s been tough to get out until now. ” He sighs then adds, “But it’s sure great to be back in Texas.”

For those not in the know, the McWilliams family is originally from Texarkana, Texas. Mark graduated from the University of Texas in Austin, as did his Mom, Janis. (Here’s where the story gets interesting!) Janis was a French major, so gifted she won a competition to study in France. After spending time in Paris, Lyon and other parts of the country she was even more enamored of French culture, cuisine and, of course, the wine.

After returning to Texas, Janis continued to explore her interest in all things French. But, as Mark explains, “Flying back and forth to France wasn’t an option on my parents’ income.” So instead, Janis and her husband Al began to visit California, where they continued to pursue their passion for wine. In 2002, they fell in love with an exceptionally beautiful piece of land in the Russian River Valley — Arista.

Although unplanted, the McWilliams saw a huge opportunity in their new purchase. Neighboring vineyards included Williams Selyem, Gary Farrell, J. Rochioli and Sonoma-Cutrer. From the 36-acre parcel, Janis and Al selected 9 acres for Pinot Noir and one acre for Chardonnay. The goal was to use sustainable farming practices and minimal intervention to produce the most elegant expression of Russian River Valley wines possible.


The McWilliams Family: Mark & Jennifer with their four children on the left, Al and Janis center, Ben and Tatiana with their baby on the right. Photo courtesy of Arista Winery.

In 2013, Mark and his brother Ben took over management of the property. “We decided at that point to go all in,” says Mark. “We wanted to revamp the winery style and reset the brand completely. The first step in that process was hiring a seasoned winemaker.”

Matt Courtney was a perfect fit. After graduating from UC Davis, Matt worked eight years with Helen Turley and John Wetlaufer at Marcassin, where he helped craft some of the most highly rated Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California. Arista was a natural progression and he eagerly took on the responsibilities of winemaker.

With Matt on board, Mark and Ben reduced production size from 15,000 cases to 5,000 cases and moved into more traditional practices. They also terminated contracts with vineyards that weren’t Grands Crus – A+ sites.


Before taking over winemaking responsibilities at Arista, Matt Courtney worked for Helen Turley and John Wetlaufer at Marcassin. Photo courtesy of Arista Winery.

“Every Arista Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is fermented using only the unique mix of naturally occurring yeast populations that reside in each of our vineyards and arrive at the winery on the grapes on the day of harvest,” says Mark. “The resulting fermentations are gentle, gradual, cool and quite slow, but result in wines that have incredible complexity, unique personalities and are exquisitely expressive of their sites.”

A new winery was also part of the “all in” commitment. Arista’s state-of-the art facility includes custom built fermenters tailored to each vineyard and vineyard block to allow for more efficient fermentations. Underground barrel rooms provide stable temperatures and take advantage of ambient temperatures.

“More space means barrels don’t need to be stacked and unstacked during the aging process,” explains Mark. “This allows gravity to settle and naturally clarify the wine over the year which in turn yields pristine, clear wines that do not need filter or fining before bottling.”


Arista’s new winery was completed just in time to crush the 2018 vintage. Photo courtesy of Arista Winery.

Russian River Valley
This blend is assembled with select lots from the Westside Road Estate Vineyard as well as selections from the Toboni, Lucky Well, and Mononi Vineyards — an excellent overview of the vintage and appellation each year.

Ferrington Vineyard, Anderson Valley
From one of California’s most acclaimed Pinot Noir vineyards, Arista has selected a block planted to the Pommard clone because of its proven legacy in this cold climate appellation. The vineyard has a gentle south-facing slope, with decomposed sandstone and clay soils creating three to four feet of topsoil. Originally planted in the late 1960s, these are some of oldest Pinot Noir in the region.

U.V. Lucky Well Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Home to some of the most highly acclaimed Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards in the Russian River Valley, due in large part to the perfect confluence of soil, climate, and elevation. The vineyard is in an area often referred to as the “banana belt” of the Russian River Valley because it sits on a knoll that rises above the fog line. This feature exposes the fruit to more gentle sunlight, which allows very slow and even ripening across the entire growing season. Arista’s 4-acre section was planted in 2008 to Pommard, Swan, and Calera clones of Pinot Noir.

Marla & Michel with Mark McWilliams at a recent tasting of Arista wines. Photo by Laura Corrigan.

Russian River Valley
A superb value, this blend combines old vine plantings from Banfield, Ritchie, El Diablo, Arista Estate Vineyard — ideal growing conditions and unique terroir producing a wine that demonstrates the full potential of the Russian River Valley appellation.

Banfield Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Ideal for growing Chardonnay due to the cooling influence of coastal fog. This dry farmed vineyard was planted in 1980 to the Wente Selection of Chardonnay, a highly prized selection of Chardonnay know for its small, loose clusters and intensely flavored grapes. The 30+ year old vines are rare in the Russian River Valley and produce lower yields per acre. The combination of site and vine age represent a truly unique and distinct vineyard.

U.V. El Diablo Vineyard, Russian River Valley
The late Ulises Valdez, renowned as one of the most knowledgeable and skilled vineyard managers in the California wine country, planted El Diablo Vineyard in 2008. The site is located on a ridge off Eastside Road that serves as the eastern edge of the Russian River Valley Appellation. The site is shrouded in fog every morning, but by early afternoon the marine layer burns off and the vines are able to soak in several hours of warm sunlight. The Arista blocks of Chardonnay are planted to Old Wente and Montrachet Selections.

Ulises Valdez Sr., one of Sonoma’s most renowned vineyard managers. Photo courtesy of the Valdez family.

Ritchie Vineyard, Russian River Valley 
Kent Ritchie has owned and farmed his namesake vineyard since the early 1970’s. The vineyard is located just off of River Road at the intersection of Eastside Road and Trenton Road. The location is unique because it sits on a bench at the confluence of the Russian River, the Santa Rosa Plain, and the Laguna de Santa Rosa. The well-drained, sandy, Goldridge Soils are ideal for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The vineyard is planted to, predominately, the Old Wente Selection of Chardonnay which is highly coveted for its low yields and ability to produce an intensely flavored and aromatic wine.

Not surprisingly, Arista wines are in huge demand. Most are sold directly to members of the estate’s wine club. However, we were able to procure a select collection.

Also available here are a few highly-rated Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and a listing of rare California vintage classics. Linked products can be ordered directly online. Write or call 850-687-1370 for additional information.

2018 Russian River Pinot Noir. $58.99. 20 bottles
2017 Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir. $75.99. 12 bottles
2018 Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir. JD93+ $75.99. 3 bottles
2017 Tobani Pinot Noir. $79.99. 12 bottles
2018 Lucky Well Pinot Noir. AG-92. $78.99. 2 bottles
2018 Russian River Chardonnay. JD-93. $58.99. 12 bottles

2019 Henri Boillot Bourgogne Blanc. $29.99. 12 bottles
2018 Anne Gros Bourgogne Blanc Limited Edition. $39.99. 12 bottles
2018 Carillon Bourgogne Aligoté. $28.99. 12 bottles
2019 Domaine Roc des Boutires Pouilly-Fuissé Aux Bouthières. $59.99. 10 bottles.
2018 Genot Boulanger Savigny Les Beaune Blanc Vielles Vignes. $54.99. 12 bottles
2018 Chavy Puligny-Montrachet. $89.99. 24 bottles
2018 Château de Meursault 1er Cru “Charmes” $89.99. 6 bottles
2019 Henri Boillot Meursault 1er Cru “Clos Richemont” $109.99. 13 bottles
2018 Matrot Puligny-Montrachet “Chalumeaux” $94.99. 12 bottles
2017 Domaine Michel Niellon Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru “Clos de la Maltroie” $118.99. 9 bottles
2018 Louis Michel Chablis Grand Cru “Grenouilles” $89.99. 12 bottles

2018 Anne Gros Bourgogne Rouge Limited Edition. $39.99. 6 bottles
2018 Genot Boulanger Savigny Les Beaune 1er Cru “Les Vergelesses” $49.99. 12 bottles
2017 Tollot-Beaut Chorey les Beaune. $49.99. 12 bottles
2016 Mugneret Pernand Vergelesses. $69.99. 12 bottles
2018 Dominique Lafon Volnay. $89.99. 12 bottles 
 2019 Henri Boillot Volnay 1er Cru “Les Fremiets” $89.99. 17 bottles
2019 Henri Boillot Volnay 1er Cru “Les Chevrets” $89.99. 9 bottles
2018 Faiveley Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru “Charmes” $139.99. 6 bottles
2017 Gouges Nuits-Saint-Georges “Les Saint-Georges” $182.99. 6 bottles
2016 Drouhin-Laroze Latricières-Chambertin Grand Cru. $279.99. 6 bottles
2018 Lucien Lemoine Chambertin Clos de Bèze Grand Cru. $659.99. 6 bottles
2018 Domaine Comte de Vogüé Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru. NM-98. $599.99. 3 bottles
2018 Domaine Comte de Vogüé Musigny Grand Cru Vieilles Vignes. NM 97-99. $789.99. 1 bottle

1991 Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. $84.99. 2 bottles
1993 Forman Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. ST-94. $89.99. 1 bottle
1999 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. WE-95. $99.99. 1 bottle
2000 Abreu Madrona Ranch. $299.99. 1 bottle.
2003 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon. $229.99. 3 bottles
2006 Staglin Family Cabernet Sauvignon. CG-97. $149.99. 3 bottles
2008 Revana St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon. $99.99. 1 bottle.
2011 Shafer “Hillside Select” Cabernet Sauvignon in Magnum. RP-96. $429.99. 1 bottle
2011 David Arthur Meritaggio. $59.99. 6 bottles.
2016 Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. DC-100  RP-100. $475.99. 1 bottle

Diamond Creek
2003 Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon. W&S-94. $199.99. 1 bottle
2009 Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon. RP-95+ $169.99. 1 bottle
2004 Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon. RP-96. $199.99. 1 bottle
2007 Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon. JS-94. $229.99. 1 bottle.

Ann Colgin Cellars
2006 Herb Lamb Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. RP-96. $355.99. 2 bottles
2006 Tychson Hill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. RP-98. $389.99. 1 bottle
2008 IX Estate Red. JS-99. $419.99. 1 bottle
2009 IX Estate Red. JS-99. $419.99. 1 bottle
2014 IX Estate Syrah. JS-97. $299.99. 2 bottles
2017 Cariad Bordeaux Blend. JS-98. $539.99. 1 bottle
2017  Tychson Hill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. JD-98. $539.99. 3 bottles

Realm Cellars
2009 Farella Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. RP-91. $129.99. 8 bottles
2017  The Bard Bordeaux Blend. JD-96. $139.99. 2 bottles

Hyde de Villaine 
2012 Belle Cousine Bordeaux Blend. JD-93. $73.99. 2 bottles
2014 Belle Cousine Bordeaux Blend. $75.99. 11 bottles
2015 Carneros Chardonnay. JS-96. $59.99. 6 bottles